What is the job of a news outlet? To be a medium of information. The medium cannot be reactive, it cannot take a stance. It is a medium, bare to the bone. What is the job of a columnist? To stitch together the information that forms a sequence of events and portray it in front of the reader. He cannot be emotional, he cannot be angry, he cannot be non-neutral. It would be unprofessional of the news outlet, and columnists, if they do not abide by those mentioned rules. So, when a Dalit man is beaten to death by two upper caste youths, the powerhouses of Indian media reports it bare to the bone. It reports the facts, unappalled.
We cannot. We feel angry at the news, just like any person would. We report it, asking the reader to be angry, urging him to ask questions, asking him to tremble at the injustice, because there are no two ways to it.
A 25-year-old Dalit youth in Madhya Pradesh’s Chhattarpur district was killed because he touched the plates of ‘upper caste’ men during a party. The incident occurred nearly 450-km away from the state capital, Bhopal, close to the Uttar Pradesh border on Tuesday evening. Farm laborer Devraj Anuraji, a resident of Kishanpur village and from the Scheduled Caste community (Kori), was beaten to death by his two ‘upper caste’ friends – Apurva Soni and Santosh Pal – for touching a plate, the police said.
The Gaurihar police booked both the accused on charges of murder and atrocities against Dalits, but they are absconding. “The deceased and both the accused Apurva and Santosh are of the same village. They killed Devraj for touching the plates of their friends during the party,” said the town inspector of Gaurihar police station Jaswant Singh Rajput to TOI.
The accused have been booked under Section 302 (punishment for murder) and Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, and police are conducting raids to arrest them, Rajput added. The accused who are of the same village called Devraj for partying on the outskirts of the village on Tuesday afternoon. They purchased some ingredients and prepared a meal. Around 4 pm, when Apurva Soni and Santosh Pal began to eat the food, the deceased tried to take a plate from numerous available plates there in a bid to eat together. This act of “touching plates” irked both his upper-caste friends and there was an angry exchange of words in the following minutes, the police said.
Soon after, the angered duo attacked Devraj with a stick and beat him until he began to bleed. When Devraj fainted, the duo dropped him at his home claiming that he got injured. He succumbed to injuries around 7 pm. “The police are continuously looking for the accused and soon they will be behind the bars,” said ASP Chhattarpur, Sameer Sourabh to India Today, adding that as per the provisions of prevention of atrocities against SC/STs, the victims family will be given Rs 8.25 lakh and other benefits.
These are the facts. The victim, the incident, the accused, the penal codes are which they are booked, and the compensation for being beaten to death. The report should ideally end here, but let us not. Let us ask a few questions. Let us ask why Dalits are targeted over and over again? Let us ask why crimes against Dalits increased by 6% from 2009 to 2018 with over 3.91 lakh atrocities being reported? Let us ask why on average 88.5% of cases under the Protection Against Atrocities Act remain pending trial from 2009 to 2018?
The ‘beaten to death for touching food’ is not a one-off incident. There have been hundreds of cases of atrocities, most of which are not even reported. From the ones that are reported, one gets the nature of barbarity and oppression the lower castes face in India.
When a 16-year-old boy in Uttar Pradesh, gets shot dead inside his home for going to a temple, or when a 20-year-old Dalit college student was killed by Maratha men for being in a relationship with a woman from their community, or when a nine-month pregnant Dalit woman who had to descend 250 steps from her hilltop home to get daily essentials was sent back empty-handed for being a Dalit, or when a Dalit woman was kept hostage by five influential people of a village for 8 hours on her wedding day and gang-raped several times, one question arises. The question is, are they not human beings? Does the government not have a moral obligation to protect the basic dignity of the life of a Dalit or other lower castes?
Amendments to the Atrocity Act was introduced in 2015, and which came into force in January 2016, but it continues to remain only on paper. The amendments mandated exclusive special courts, but the same has not even been set up in all the States. Apart from that, offenses are not getting registered under the correct sections of the amended Act, compensation is not provided as per the newly amended rules. The low conviction rate under the SC/ST Act, 25.2 percent for cases against Dalits and 22.8 percent for Adivasis, remains a concern.
Dalit communities have long suffered serious abuses, but the state response has lackluster. The government should undertake systemic changes for proper enforcement of the law, and ensure that erring officials are held accountable and booked as they fail in their duty, but it has grossly fallen short every time. Caste-based violence against Dalits is escalating as the government keeps appeasing certain upper caste communities for vote banks. The number of cases of crime against Dalits is growing and the brutality of the crimes is becoming increasingly severe. Systems of justice meant to protect Dalits at the national level are completely failing us. If the government does not act immediately, it will have declared that – the government is for everyone but Dalits.